Kudos to Troy for Saturday’s awesome Food Truck Festival. The location was excellent and the turn-out, spectacular. It’s a shame Albany couldn’t get its act together and take advantage of this kind of event. So good for Troy – it’s trying. Maybe that should be Troy’s new slogan – ‘at least we’re trying!’. And while Troy is trying, Albany is missing the boat big-time. It’s like Albany can’t get out of its own way politically and it’s suffocating the city. Our schools have been destroyed by the failed charter experiment. First our kids suffer and then our community starts to crumble. No one wants to move to an area with failing schools, an old political machine and crappy, old restaurants. It’s not like all of our restaurants are crappy – some are great, fresh and new – but there isn’t a lot of competition in the way of actual quality restaurants.
My friend and I showed up at the Food Truck Fest close to 1PM. At that point it was already packed solid. It was a gorgeous day and the vibe was pretty laid back. The saddest part of the event was, after nearly an hour in line and having only moved a dozen feet, my companion and I had to bail. I was getting sunburnt and both of us were melting in the heat. We went over to Dinosaur BBQ which was handling some of the spillovers like us – and while there was still another 45 minute wait there – at least we could do it inside and off our feet.
We were pretty sad we had to abandon the festival – but at the same time, I’m proud of our community for the incredible turn-out. I think this shows you that the people of the Capital Region have a strong desire for a more vibrant food and event culture. We want more! We’ve all seen these Food Network and Travel shows where they show parks full of food trucks on nights and weekends. We’ve seen the specialty diners and exciting, fancy restaurants. And what do we have to fulfill that need in the Capital Region? We have NWBB and, if we’re lucky to work in an area that’s food truck friendly, some of us can occasionally experience the joy that is food trucks between 11 and 2 on weekdays.
Can you imagine a Washington Park that, during the nights and weekends, had relaxed live music and food vendors? That’s the kind of thing that’s going to draw people to our down-town. And Albany, if we don’t act quickly, Troy is going to beat us to it. Instead of Albany being a great go-to, we Albanians are going to demand more bus service between Troy and Albany so we can leave town and Enjoy Troy on the weekends. The best case scenario would be that Albany and Troy BOTH work to bring in exciting entrepreneurs who want to IMPROVE our cities with independent retail and restaurants. We have to get rid of the favorites system in Albany, our city is never going to flourish if it only rewards the politically connected. Once we start working on these issues maybe we can talk about a light rail system between Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga. THESE are things that will make our cities a destination for tourists and residents. Duh.
The first couple of months of the new year are always the hardest when it comes to budgeting. And due to a few major setbacks, this year has been especially tough.
We love food. We cook adventurous things and dine out on a whim. I’ll readily admit frugality goes out the window at the slightest temptation or craving. I am completely aware of how spoiled we’ve been by this luxury but during the month of February we’ve been getting creative in stretching our food budget. It’s meant not being tempted by lunch specials at a nearby café and instead sticking to a packed lunch every day. It’s meant no fast food on those nights when I’m too tired to cook.
A lot of this is common sense, but I thought I’d share some of the techniques and recipes that have kept us going.
1 –Track your receipts (I use a simple budget spreadsheet in Excel) and just LOOK at where you’re spending your money. It’s easier to make cut-backs when you can see exactly how much you’re spending on certain items.
2 – Set a budget. Decide how much you want to spend on each meal or over a certain time period. Eating a few extra cheap meals will allow you to splurge on something nice elsewhere.
3 – Plan plan plan! I use a spreadsheet where I can plan my meals, grocery lists and estimate how much items will cost. This gives me a good idea of how much I’ll be spending on ingredients, an entire meal, a full week of meals, etc. Make a cell for every meal and plan for every one of those meals.
4 – Low & slow – try to make a large amount of food at once to hold over for several days. Get creative with your cooking. If you’re a meat-eater, one of the foods that will sustain you longer than anything else is a whole chicken. I dry roast it low and slow to make a delicious chicken dinner. Two of us can get a couple more meals of chicken sandwiches or something similar and once it’s picked it over pretty well, throw it in a pot of water and make stock. From the stock make a soup with good fillers like noodles, barley, greens, root veggies and you have a bunch of hearty meals. These can even be frozen for later. A local, free range chicken should set you back about $10-$12 and you can get at least 10 meals for two people.
A humanely raised 3 pound pork Boston butt roast will probably set you back close to $30, which is a lot of up-front cost – but you can get several meals out of it. I made one recently. We ate 8 sandwiches and I still have a fair amount left. Tonight I’m going to use the leftovers in macaroni and cheese. I’m going to soak the macaroni in my homemade bbq sauce before mixing in the cheese sauce and pulled pork. We’ll get at least 8 more meals out of this. Yes, the additional components of cheese, milk and macaroni cost money, but it’s still a minimal investment.
While Drew is not opposed to the taste of black beans, he is not fond of the side effects. After a bit of research I found a great bean soaking method that really gets rid of whatever it is in beans that causes gas. I’ve recently made two black bean-centric dishes and neither of them caused any ill effects. The hot soak method from this website works wonders: http://calbeans.org/bean-basics/preparation/soaking-methods/
For each pound of California dry beans, any variety, add 10 cups hot water. Remember, beans will rehydrate to at least twice their dry size, so be sure to start with a large enough pot. (Note: Up to 2 teaspoons of salt per pound of beans may be added to help the beans absorb water more evenly.) Heat to boiling, let boil two to three minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for four hours or more. The longer soak time is recommended to allow more sugars to dissolve, thus helping the beans to be more easily digested. Whether you soak the beans for an hour or several hours, discard the soak water.
I haven’t used the salt (which I think will also keep your beans from splitting) and each time I’ve done this I’ve let it sit for 6+ hours. After draining and rinsing the beans I add enough water to cover them by an inch or more and boil them for about an hour and a half.
I’ve been using a one pound bag of dried beans in recipes that call for 2 15-1/2 oz cans of beans.
I took my cooked beans, mashed them with some vinegar, cumin and Arizona dreaming spice and made soft shell tacos with the beans, chipotle slaw, feta cheese, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. We got 12 tacos out of that. It probably cost $12 to make everything. Instead of tacos, you could also take these same ingredients, plus a few others, to make awesome black bean burgers.
It’s all about taking cheap ingredients and finding different ways to use them; kind of in the same way as Marge Simpson and her bargain basement Chanel suit.
I found Daniel Berman’s Cooking Out the Cold recipes to be hugely inspiring. I went to Parivar and bought a big ass bag of dried garbanzos and have now even made a more from-scratch style of Chana Masala. His recipe calls for a box mix of spices, but I usually have everything on hand you’d need to make it properly. It’s only a couple more steps and tastes better. A meal like that probably costs less than a quarter per serving and is incredibly satisfying.
Lately, we’ve been working our way through a Mrs. London’s country loaf every morning for breakfast. It’s pricey upfront, but it works out to a pretty cheap breakfast when spread over a week. But to save us on even that, I’ve been developing a sourdough starter and am going to take a stab at the Tartine loaf in a few weeks. I’m also making my first chevre cheese which we can use on bagels or in a cheesecake or on a salad. I adore chevre and despite the outrageous price of goat’s milk, it’s a lot cheaper to make than buy and I cannot believe how easy it is. I say that now, but the test will be how it holds up after I bag it tonight.
Like I said, a lot of this is common sense, but hopefully it provided a bit of inspiration. What do you do to trim your budget in the kitchen? Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments.
Saturday was a tough day at the rescue clinic. They had two litters of fresh puppies (huskies and lab/beagle mixes) plus stand-alone puppies. I get that some people want puppies, but my heart broke every time new people would walk right past Monty and head straight for the puppies with their eyes lit up. I get it, I do. Those puppies were freaking adorable. But for a six month old dog who’s pushing 60 pounds, Monty had some stiff competition. Of course, if I were in the market for another dog I’d have already written a check for his adoption fee. I love big dogs, I especially love big dogs who aren’t 12 weeks old! There are probably a lot of other people like me, but on the Saturday before Christmas it’s all families who want baby puppies. I know those pups need homes too, but dang it, my Monty and all the other older dogs deserve a home for Christmas.
A couple of hours into the clinic a nice woman stopped to meet Monty, she sounded like a perfect fit – she had a farm, a couple of other big dogs and, best of all, no children. But she seemed a little distracted; she had actually showed up to look at another dog. Quite a lot of time went by and the woman never came back for the walk with Monty I had offered her. Fifteen minutes before the end of the clinic most people were packing it in. I felt like the day was pretty pointless and I was thinking of just leaving too. But then she came back. The woman said she had talked to another volunteer and she wanted to take Monty for a little walk outside. I was so excited. She told me about her other dogs and that they were waiting in her truck. Since Monty isn’t the best with introductions, we let her dogs out and walked all three big doggies side-by-side until proper butt sniffing commenced. Before long Monty was trying to play with her shepherd and seemed to be having a good time. Turns out, the reason the woman hadn’t come back yet to see Monty was because she was busy being interviewed and approved for adoption!
Her husband hadn’t yet met Monty so we agreed to take Monty out to her farm the next day to check out the house and make sure Monty was a good fit. The first thing Monty did was explore and before you know it, he was dragging a giant bone (at least two feet long) down into their living room. It was adorable. No one can resist that kind of charm.
We left Monty in their care that evening. It was a really hard drive home for me. As tough as it was having three dogs, he really was a part of our family. This was happening just hours before we let him go:
I cried all the way home, they were a mix of happy and sad tears. I think the home will be awesome for Monty. There are cats, dogs, chickens and horses for him to play with and his new mom has already sent me a video of him romping with his new buddies in the snow. When we returned home on Sunday night I sat on the couch and cried and my sweet Wrigley was there for me.
Monty brought a lot of sweetness into our life and the least we could do was give him a place to sleep, eat, play and be safe along his journey to his forever home. If you’re thinking of adopting or fostering or are looking for a great place to make a year-end donation, Homeward Bound is a terrific organization.
This year we decided to foster a dog over the holidays. I’ve wanted to foster for a while but knew it would be a challenge when we already own two big dogs.
Also known as Monty Python, Montgomery Cheddar, Monte Leon, Monty Cooper and Jesus Christ. Actually, I think we should just rename all of our dogs Jesus Christ, it rolls off the tongue easier when trying to get their attention.
Monty, like most dogs, is a Good Boy. He’s 5 or 6 months old and weighs about 55 pounds. He’s thought to be an Anatolian Shepherd so he’s probably going to get quite a bit bigger. He is a snuggle bug. His favorite activities include gnawing on bones, cuddling and long walks in the park. He knows his basic commands, has a big boy bladder and is very good about telling you when he needs to go outside.
He’s going to be an amazing companion to some lucky person or family but I really want to be realistic with potential adopters about a few things.
It’s tough to introduce him to other dogs. He’s strong and has a tendency to get barky if he picks up a bad vibe. He’s generally good with most dogs but can snap when under stress. This was most obvious at the rescue clinic this past Saturday.
After a week of romps and snuggles I cried when I put him in the van to take him to the adoption clinic on Saturday. I was so sad at the idea of letting him go. By the time the clinic was ending I was ready to cry again, but this time because he hadn’t yet been adopted. The clinic can be a stressful place for some dogs. There is a lot of excitement and can get crowded. Monty was mostly calm, but a few times got aggressive towards some other dogs and that gives him a bad reputation.
While Monty has never shown aggression to people, if he was to get reactive towards another dog and a kid was in the way it would be bad news. He should really go to a home with older kids, or preferably, only adults. He is gentle with kids, but his unpredictability around other dogs is something that some parents might not want in their lives which could result in him being returned to Homeward Bound, which is a stressful situation.
I love this dog so much. He would be so wonderful for a single person or a couple who can exhibit strong leadership skills. He easily bonds with people, especially women (such a charmer). He’s happiest by his human’s side and makes content little humming noises as he snoozes. He plays well with our dogs, Monty and Coop are buddies and are serious about play time and sleeping.
Fostering for this last week has definitely taught me that we’re a 2-dog couple. Maybe, in time, it would become easier to have a third dog, and I’m telling you I’ve been trying to convince myself it’s possible with the amount of love I have for Monty. But, realistically, it’s just damn hard having three dogs and that’s not the fault of the dogs. We’re big proponents on lots of exercise for the dogs and that means we’re hitting the pavement for at least 2 hours every day. With just two dogs, one of us can pick up some of the slack if the other is busy making dinner or whatever. With three dogs, both of us are required to go out for every walk. Monty’s also in his adjustment period and little noises in the night get him riled up and he starts barking which gets Cooper going too. That’s definitely settled down a little more each day, but it really limited our sleep this week which frayed our nerves. The puppies play rough together, as puppies should, however, our house has been a disaster area for the last week. Lastly, I value my marriage and I think we discovered how close we might be to Drew’s breaking point when it comes to chaos in the house. He loves little Monty very much, but we all have our limits.
I’m not sure if we’ll foster again after this. I’d still like to volunteer in other ways for Homeward Bound. It’s definitely an adventure and I’m so happy we’re doing it. Monty is an amazing dog and I’m grateful we have a chance to help him on his journey.
If you’re interested in adopting Monty or any other rescue dog or want to volunteer in some way for Homeward Bound, visit their adoption clinic on Saturday mornings in Schenectady right off Erie Blvd.
My dogs are such nerds. I swear, every time I look at them hanging around the house they seem to be snoozing in the same position. Even when one is on a chair and another on a couch, they’re often sleeping in the same manner.
This was over a period of an hour last night.
We’re putting in our application to foster for Homeward Bound over the holidays. I will report back if this behavior continues when adding a third dog to the mix.
If you have some love in your heart and the ability to do so, please consider fostering a dog in need over the holidays. Check out Homeward Bound’s Facebook post for more details.
I recently wrote about an experience regarding the pork at Hannaford. I discovered from the butcher that what they market as “All Natural” is really a Smithfield product with a Hannaford label. According to their website their pigs had access to running water, fresh air and grass. I think most people know this is NOT the case with Smithfield animals. In their response to me they clarified that there is a difference between what they market as “All Natural” and “Nature’s Place”. “All Natural” just means non-enhanced. “Nature’s Place” pork instead comes from Prairie Grove Farms.
A short bit of homework with Google led me to the Prairie Grove Farms website. Turns out they operate under the Cargill banner and they still don’t live up to those three claims from Hannaford’s website. While Prairie Grove Farms may have slightly better living conditions than a pig on a Smithfield Farm, their pigs still never go outside. Think about that. Can you imagine never going outside? That’s like never letting your dog outside!
What’s interesting are that the definitions of Hannaford’s claims are really misleading. “Fresh air” means that as long as there is ventilation of outdoor air into an indoor facility, it qualifies as having fresh air. Running water conjures up the image of bubbling streams, but the reality is that as long as it comes out of a hose, it’s running. And grass…that’s the kicker – that’s the one that shows that Hannaford’s claims are truly false. Access to grass tells me those pigs get to live outside. They don’t.
In Hannaford’s final response to my follow-up inquiry they admitted that the claims on their website are indeed misleading and will be changed. While I’m grateful for greater transparency, I wish they could instead back up their claims. They replied, “Our Merchandising team has advised me that the program we use is one of the most sustainable that exists that is able to supply a company of our size.”
And the final verdict? We’re just too dang big to do better. Am I wrong in thinking that because of their size they should have the power to DEMAND better? The IGA in my Midwestern hometown only supplied meat from local farms when I was growing up in the 80′s. Maybe that’s the model we need to get back to again. When do we say these companies are too big to serve? I’m starting to wonder if our future is in places like the Honest Weight Food Coop and the Cheese Traveler – small markets that know their base and cater to quality, not quantity.
Since Hannaford is too big, I’m going small. I’ve been looking for a meat CSA. Tilldale, 8 O’Clock Ranch and West Wind Acres all look good. I’m also leaning towards a Roxbury veggie CSA next year so I can gain access to their meat CSA which is priced a little lower than the others. No matter what I choose it will be worth it to know my delicious pulled pork, bacon and pork chops were once happy pigs who rolled in slop and ate from troughs under the summer sun.
Here are my emails and responses from Hannaford:
On a recent trip to Hannaford I was speaking with one of your butchers who informed that the Nature’s Place All Natural Pork products were re-labeled Smithfield Pork products. He said, they receive the large cuts of Smithfield, cut them down and then package them under the Hannaford label. In fact, I witnessed a different butcher at the same location pull a Smithfield box out and repackage a rack of ribs and labeled it as a Hannaford all-natural product. On the Hannaford website you claim the all natural pork at Hannaford complies with the following statement:
“As a result of many years of experience and the development of an animal-friendly style of pork production, sows and pigs used for the Nature’s Place brand have unlimited access to grass, fresh air and running water.”
There appears to be no evidence that Smithfield’s hog production subsidiary, Murphy-Brown, LLC, complies with this claim. In fact, they only intend to comply with removing the horrific practice of using gestation crates by the year 2017. The only one of those things that Smithfield / Murphy Brown promises is that their pigs are offered “adequate amounts of fresh water”. No where do they promise that these pigs have access to the outdoors. In the recent past, this company has been exposed for their outright abuse of pigs.
As a lover of pork and someone who grew up in the rural Midwest, I would really like to know what steps Hannaford is going to take to honestly back up the claim that your “natural” meat is treated humanely. These are animals – living breathing creatures and just because they are being raised for food production doesn’t mean we have any right to deny them simple and basic things like access to sunlight. It’s disturbing that these are the practices in modern meat production. I sincerely hope that Hannaford can stand behind their promise that the pigs used for their all natural pork are granted “unlimited access to fresh air, grass and running water”.
October 30, 2012
Thank you for contacting Hannaford. We are pleased to have the opportunity to respond.
The Hannaford pork(different than Nature’s Place) is all-natural non-enhanced. The Nature’s Place pork does not come from Smithfield. These products come from Prairie Grove Farms, which is an all-natural, veggie fed program which is fully compliant with all standards in place.
Please be assured that we take your concerns very seriously as we continuously explore ways to improve in our operations. We will certainly share your comments with all departments involved and, if possible, adjust our procedures to prevent this from happening again.
Again, thank you for contacting Hannaford. If we can further assist you, Valerie, please do not hesitate to let us know.
Consumer Research Specialist
November 2, 2012 follow-up submitted through hannaford website:
I am writing as a follow up to a prior inquiry. I received a response via email but was unable to reply to the address from which it was sent (email@example.com). My response was from Kelly Smoot and it included this at the bottom: Ref 3172251/kelsmo
Thank you for your response and clarification on the origins of the meat and how it is labeled. I am still concerned that your website claims that the pigs used for the Hannaford Nature’s Place pork have access to grass when, according to Prairie Grove Farms, their pigs do not go outdoors. I think the claim is misleading and Hannaford should continue to make strides towards providing sustainable and humanely treated meat alternatives. I would also encourage Hannaford to work toward complete transparency when it comes to the origin of the food it sells to avoid the troubling “greenwashing” trend.
Thank you again for your time and response.
November 30, 2012
On November 2nd I submitted a follow-up submission via this website in response to a reply I received on a previous inquiry regarding Nature’s Place All-Natural Pork. I have yet to receive a response and wanted to write again to voice my concerns over misleading information regarding the treatment of the pigs used in the Nature’s Place All-Natural Pork.
My original inquiry response was from Kelly Smoot and it included this at the bottom: Ref 3172251/kelsmo
After Kelly informed me of the difference between regular “All Natural” pork and the “Nature’s Place All-Natural Pork” I did some research on Prairie Grove Farms, your supplier of the Nature’s Place pork. The pigs of Prairie Grove Farms live inside barns and do not go outside or have access to grass as you claim on this page: http://www.hannaford.com/content.jsp?pageName=ONMeat&leftNavArea=FoodLoveLeftNav
I think using terms like “fresh air” and “running water” give people the false impression that the pigs live outdoors and have access to a stream. However, these terms really only mean that barns are ventilated and have water hoses.
If Hannaford truly wants to make a commitment to the humane treatment of animals raised for meat consumption I would strongly urge that you provide better transparency as to the origin of your meat and make available details of exactly how the animals are treated. In the meantime, I have personally stopped purchasing all of my meats from Hannaford and am instead supporting local farms where I know how the animals have been treated.
I hope that Hannaford will stop the “green-washing” of products by eliminating misleading claims. But I hope even more that a better effort could be made to provide humanely-treated meats in your store.
Thank you for your time.
December 04, 2012
Dear Ms. MacMillan:
Thank you for contacting Hannaford. We are pleased to have the opportunity to respond.
Our Merchandising team has advised me that the program we use is one of the most sustainable that exists that is able to supply a company of our size. We appreciate you making us aware about the claims of access to grass and I will send this to our Marketing team so that this can removed from the website.
Again, thank you for contacting Hannaford. If we can further assist you, Ms. MacMillan, please do not hesitate to let us know.
Consumer Research Specialist
You know those days when the wind is blowing and snow is piling up at the front door and you don’t want to go anywhere? You might even start a fire, curl up on the couch with a good book or watch a guilty pleasure movie on tv. A lot of us, though, go out in that crappy weather because our animal companions need just as much exercise as any other day – and they need that ever-important potty break. I walk the dogs on beautiful summer days, cold, rainy fall evenings and below-zero winter nights. I have big dogs too, so we’re out for two hours over the course of a day. I love my dogs so I’m more than happy to do this, but I’d like to make a tiny little request for the citizens of Albany at the beginning of this less-than-pleasant season: please don’t salt. I’ve written about our sad, salty dog adventures before.
If you’re going to salt, consider buying a pet-friendly alternative. I definitely appreciate the need for salt on roadways and on the college campus, but on city sidewalks you can make the choice on how to clear your walkway. Amazon carries a good variety of alternatives to rock salt. If you’re courteous enough to clear your sidewalk for winter pedestrians, please consider the sensitive paws of the numerous K-9 pedestrians as well. We’re happy to keep poop off your lawn and we’d sincerely appreciate a salt-free sidewalk in return. Thanks!